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The Boy Next Door

January 23, 2015
The Boy Next Door

January rolls on, and as most of the prestige-season holdovers have finished rolling out to their nationwide releases we’re getting deeper into the dump zone. And while The Boy Next Door is not as spectacularly bad as last year’s The Legend of Hercules, it’s still pretty awful.

Jennifer Lopez stars in this thriller with pretensions of eroticism, and Jenny from the Block has a nasty new neighbor. Claire Peterson is deciding whether or not to finalize her divorce from her husband Garrett (John Corbett) when the old geezer next door has to go in for surgery and his nephew Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves in to take care of the house. Noah’s a natural mechanic who starts helping out around Claire’s house, and he takes her awkward son, Kevin (Ian Nelson) under his wing. He also takes a liking to Claire herself; they have a sexual encounter, and things go terribly wrong from there.

The story is meant to call back to Mary Kay Letourneau: Claire is a teacher at the local high school, and Noah is about to enroll there in the fall. But then the plot starts backflipping so we can turn around and make the younger man the bad person here. Noah, it turns out, is 20, so Claire isn’t even a statutory rapist. But he tries to hold their affair over her head despite the fact that he wasn’t even a student at the time, let alone one of hers, and she lets him do it.

Making Noah older throws another huge monkey wrench into the plot: For him to re-enroll to finish off his last year of high school would seem unusual enough that Claire’s confidante vice principal Vicky (Kristin Chenoweth) would have bothered to look for his old transcript and turned up a history of violence long before she actually does. That nobody ever looks into this kid is marvelously convenient, and pushes past my ability to suspend disbelief.

And then there’s Claire’s own behavior. I’m not inclined to blame the victim in domestic violence cases for not fighting back against her abuser; I know smart, capable women can end up in dangerous and destructive situations. But Claire is unevenly passive and assertive in the face of this risk, and her passivity always comes to serve a lazy script. When questioned about being seen “laying hands on” Noah, she meekly fears for her job instead of pointing out that a student by this point known to have a violent temper was advancing on her, and she merely put a hand to his chest to stop him and defend herself. Time after time, the only reason her trouble deepens is because she’s unwilling or unable to assert herself, just before turning around and asserting herself in a different way that just pours more fuel on the fire.

Besides, I don’t need to blame the victim here; the movie is all set to do that already. The marketing tagline even centers on “her mistake”. What we have here is an older woman showing sexual interest in a younger man — no worse than the age disparity of many older male leads involved with younger women on screen — and being punished for it. If only she’d settled for the alpha-bro douchebags Vicky was setting her up with she wouldn’t have ended up in this mess. Even her cheating husband is really a great guy at heart that she should never have left in the first place, lest she be terrorized by the likes of Noah.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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